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When I worked in industry, I had unchecked access to a huge stationery cupboard. As did hundreds of other employees.

Full of useful things like:

  • Files, folders, binders
  • coloured pens, mechanical pencils, markers
  • BlueTack, bull dog clips, coloured masking tape
  • index cards, A3 sketch books
  • postage paid envelopes

and the list goes on. We got some more exciting stuff as it was Agile company.

A friend of mine working for the tax office had similar access to stationery, though without the extra Agile arts and crafts supplies. She did get all the pocket calculators she ever wanted, though. I'm sure some companies even treat USB drives as disposable.

Point being in industry, the disposable tools you need to do your job were provided to you.

What I have found recently working as a research assistant is that nothing disposable is provided. There is no stationery cupboard to raid. When I need paper to throw together some math, I often end up using the back of a journal article I printed to read.

I can understand not supplying undergraduates, there are so many it is impossible to keep track of them. But there are a lot fewer staff/postgrads.

  • Is this normal for universities?
    • Is there likely to actually be a stationery cupboard (or fund) that I have just never noticed, and that I should ask my supervisor about?
  • If this is normal practice, what is the history/reasoning behind it?

It is not so much a issue of cost, it is tax deductible (for staff at least), and the pay (for staff) is generally high enough to dwarf these expenses, but of practicality. The same cost vs payrate, and tax deductions are true in industry, but big (and small) companies judge the productivity gain of no one spending 20 minutes going down to the store to buy a pen worth the costs (I guess).

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    I think your first question is so minor that it's worth just doing it. You don't even have to ask your supervisor, you could just ask someone around the office (another postdoc, a grad student, a staff member). They might not provide you everything, but at the least I would imagine there's a printer or copy machine with paper that can be nabbed in a pinch.
    – BrenBarn
    Feb 27, 2015 at 5:11
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    My experience is that private universities do have all of these things. State universities seem to be overseen by legislative bureaucrats that secretly or not so secretly suspect us of being just as corrupt as they are, and so we are not trusted with the likes of free stationary and the likes. Heck, if it weren't for their vigilance someone might take home a free pen for the kids or the spouse.
    – Corvus
    Feb 27, 2015 at 5:53
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    You probably need to ask around for it or find out where it is. Stationery is a business expense. Can't have a random person accidentally wasting 80 sheets of stationery with a research paper because someone forgot to unload all of it after printing 5 pages of letters, after all.
    – Compass
    Feb 27, 2015 at 5:55
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    I'm not convinced that either your academia or industry experiences are necessarily universal, or even representative of a broader trend. The universities (private and public) where I've been have provided all needed office supplies to employees (in one case it had to be signed for, in others not). And there are certainly businesses that tightly control office supplies (though perhaps less so in some industries than others). Feb 27, 2015 at 6:19
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    All universities that I worked at had this. The private company that I worked with didn't. Everything is relative.
    – xLeitix
    Feb 27, 2015 at 6:46

4 Answers 4

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Stationary products, with the exception of prepaid postal envelopes, are not reimbursable from most grants and needed to be provided by the university as part of its infrastructure. How the university provides the stationary products is up to them, they can of a closet full of the required supplies, be willing to order them at no cost to grant holders, or provide grant holders with a sufficient portion of the grant overheads so that stationary products can be ordered. Every university I have studied or worked at has had a closet full of supplies and the office staff were willing to order special supplies within reason, but this doesn't mean other models do not exist. You just need to ask.

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  • Looks like one does probably exist, somewhere in my department. I'll have to find out where it is/how it works. Feb 27, 2015 at 9:55
  • Why would prepaid postal envelopes constitute an exception? I luckily didn't have to rely on paper mail lots of times, but while the universities I saw were usually very generous concerning any other stationery (no locks, no counting, no tracking forms), anything involving postal fees (stamps, though prepaid envelopes would probably qualify as well, if they were offered here) was usually a medium hassle. Mar 1, 2015 at 21:46
  • @O.R.Mapper I assume postage is an allowable research expense since some research depends on mass mailings. My department covers non-research postage, but if you tried to mail 1000+ surveys you would get told off.
    – StrongBad
    Mar 1, 2015 at 22:48
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At my large, elite, private R1 university with an endowment in the billions of dollars, all stationery purchases (copy paper, letterhead, name cards toner cartridges, staples, pens, paper clips) must come out of our individual faculty research accounts.

It was not always this bad, but our current and past provosts in their infinite wisdom used the recessions of 2008 and 2001 to cut down the operating budgets of departments to the absolute minimum. No crisis gone to waste. Now, everything must come out of faculty research or external grant money.

We dream of a future where the endowment growth will mean the return of free paper clips, but no one is holding their breath.

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There is a difference between faculty (both continuing and fixed term), sessional (casual staff) and students.

At my university, the stationery supplies closet is in the photocopier room. Only faculty (continuing/fixed term staff) have access via their staff ID card. Sessional staff (teaching assistants, research assistants, casual lecturers not considered faculty etc) are not given access unless there are extenuating circumstances. Students, regardless of whether they are undergraduate or postgraduate, are expected to supply their own stationery.

When we take stationery, we actually have to record it on a sheet with the staff id and so on. It's a bit pedantic but I think it's to avoid losing heaps of stationery taken by students. I don't think it used to be in a locked room but this has since changed.

This may, or may not be the case at your university. If you are not continuing/fixed term staff (so considered part of faculty, you would know if you were actually part of faculty) then you might not actually have privilege to access stationery. Be worth checking.

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It sounds, from the other answers, that not having access to free office supplies is not unheard of. Based on my experience, I would not call it "normal" either.

I have been in three departments (engineering and social science) in major research universities and I have always had stationary provided for free. Every single thing on your list has been available and more. This includes two private and one public research universities. I just asked a colleague with experience in two different universities (both social science departments) and he said that staff and faculty have access to office supplies as well.

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